Fix Oahu Now! Panos Prevedouros for Mayor of Honolulu

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Is Vancouver’s TransLink a Model Fit for Honolulu?

TransLink is an un-elected agency with taxing powers, responsible for major regional roads and public transit in South Coast British Columbia. It started placing ads in May 2008 telling people to carpool, telecommute and bike — instead of riding transit.

How “profitable” is Vancouver’s rail system, as Councilman Gary Okino insists?


According to a staff report to the Surrey City Council, TransLink’s long range plans are doomed, as there is not enough money at the municipal level for transit. “The provincial transit plan doesn’t take into account the $100-million addition to TransLink’s annual operating costs if all the extra infrastructure is in place. This is a deficit of $500 million a year. This represents a 58-percent increase over current TransLink revenues.”

Back in 2001, TransLink was already nursing a serious deficit, and had two main choices: program cuts or raising revenues through fares, fees and property taxes. TransLink’s annual funding shortfall was expected to be about $50m in 2002-2005.

In January 2006, TransLink implemented a parking tax, a first in Canada, to raise $20m a year from non-residential surface parking areas, parkades and underground parking throughout the region. The parking site tax is included on the property owners’ municipal property tax notices and must be paid with them. Properties exempted are churches, schools, airports, First Nation reserves and health authorities.

By June 2008, TransLink’s budget projected a huge future shortfall of $300 million per year by 2012. The regional transit authority will need $150m annually to fund existing services, plus $150m for planned expansions. A fare increase is on the table, but “TransLink is aware fare prices could go so high they would be prohibitive.”

The politics of TransLink funding is being exposed.

Translink has a new real estate division to promote development based on “the Hong Kong Model.” It will raise property taxes to make up for its annual operating budget shortfall. It will also purchase land along new rapid transit routes and around stations and ramp up the value of the land through denser zoning and partnerships with land developers to create high-density commercial and residential developments.

A certain BC Councillor confirms, “TransLink looks to property development as revenue source,” confirming the politics of funding, based on “the Hong Kong model.” The agency buys land cheap and makes a profit by selling the land to private developers.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, the Vancouver Bus Riders Union and the Vancouver Board of Trade have criticized TransLink’s financial shortfalls and mismanagement of the transit system.


From a 2006 report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) to TransLink’s Governance Review Panel:

-- Ninety-five percent of survey respondents said that TransLink should not have direct taxing power. 74% of small businesses have a negative view of TransLink.

-- “A transportation ‘plan’ with no sources of revenue to cover up to 25 percent of its costs is no plan at all. No approval of any plan should be permitted without a full accounting for its costs. Before transportation plans are implemented, full explanations of the funding plan must be given to the public.” CFIB suggested transferring TransLink functions to another entity.


Vancouver’s Bus Riders Union, formed in 2001, contends that TransLink funding prioritizes Skytrain’s development for ultra-expensive rail projects over expanding the bus fleet — even though 80% of transit users are bus riders exclusively, and only 10% ride SkyLink exclusively.

Public protests grew angrier in 2007 against TransLink over fare hikes and overcrowded buses. Bus riders on TransLink’s doubling the bus fleet by 2017.


The Vancouver Board of Trade issued a of TransLink in 2001:

-- One of the lessons learned from the transit strike is that there is only a small proportion of the regional population that is truly dependent on transit, and that transit service needs to be very efficiently tailored to meet those peoples’ needs.

-- Even if all the investments proposed by TransLink proceed, according to TransLink’s own estimates well over 80 percent of workers in the region will travel to work by automobile, and almost all the movement of goods and services within the region will be by road.

-- “A road program with dedicated financing and capital expenditure commitments must be a part of any solution to the TransLink financial problem.

-- “If TransLink does not step up to and act on that broader mandate, then it should be recognized as a transit authority only and another mechanism should be found to address the other serious regional transportation challenges that are already having strong negative effects on the regional economy.”

Vancouver’s TransLink provides a reality-check for Honolulu’s taxpayers, residential and commercial property owners, bus riders and motorists. The politics of government controlled land development poses problems in Hawaii’s incestuous business climate.

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Comment by Gerry Nagamine on September 15, 2008 at 10:52pm
Wow! This must be the "BIG PICTURE", that Alicia Maluafiti of the Pro Rail Group was talking about when she was on the Hot Seat. Imagine finding the big picture in picturesque Vancouver. The neat rail system carving a path through the city and the wallets of it citizens. What a beautiful sight. Hmmm! Taxing power for a Honolulu Transit Authority perhaps. What an original idea for a government entity. And don't you worry, we can just have a financial crisis to figure out if we should cut services or raise taxes and fees. If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on raising taxes and fees. The big picture is the big picture. Hey, does anyone out there have a pair of binoculars I can borrow---this picture is way to big for me to see.



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